Inkfish explains Einstein with Toy Theater and Puppetry

“The Brain,” a new puppet theater work by Inkfish (led by Alissa Mello and Michael Kelly), will be a puppet performance exploring the life, science, and mind of Albert Einstein. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the piece April 18 to 27 in its second-floor Club.

This adult puppet piece uses a variety of puppet types and sizes including shadow, flat toy theater and marionettes. Some scenes will be presented as “suitcase theater” and projected for the theater audience using several video cameras. It is a layered work that alternately explicates science and illustrates Einstein’s life. The show opens with Einstein, a large puppet, on an autopsy table as his obituary is heard in multiple languages. Einstein’s brain is stolen, which sends the audience “inside” the brain to witness a mixture of memories from the famed theoretician’s life and the thought experiments that led to the theories of special and general relativity.

Alissa Mello and Einstein puppet from The Brain.
Alissa Mello and Einstein puppet from The Brain. Photo by Melanie Grizzel.

Puppetry proves an apt medium to explicate theories that are challenging to illustrate in the linear world. For example, the production has Einstein racing a beam of light through shadow puppetry. Other forms of puppetry serve equally well: in an attic environment, filled with suitcases and clocks, there are reenactments of his thought experiments. Key theories are illustrated, including:

* the train experiment about simultaneity

* parallel existences (through three time scenes, one of which is when you make a decision that sends a person off into three different directions)

* Relativity (if you move fast enough, you get younger).

There are also multimedia effects. For example, at the end of the play, sections of the Einstein Fuller Manifesto are read while a life-sized puppet signs his name faster and faster while a film of time going backwards shows a mushroom cloud sucking into his brain.

The scene of Einstein coming to New York, with author/puppeteer/puppet maker Michael Kelly in the background.
Here, we see the scene of Einstein coming to New York, with author/puppeteer/puppet maker Michael Kelly in the background.

Their next readings were “Einstein’s Cosmos” by Michio Kaku, which deals with Einstein as a visual thinker, Einstein’s own theoretical, political and humanist writings, and numerous other biographical works by other authors. Einstein’s practice of visual thinking became the key to the genesis for this play as Kelly translated Einstein’s thinking from text to objects. The production uses a nonlinear narrative style and visual media evoking Einstein’s own visual thought processes.

The piece is conceived and written by Michael Kelly and Alissa Mello, directed by Alissa Mello. It is designed by Michael Kelly. Music, composed and performed by Joemca, will be an audio soundscape using live and recorded found sound, original composition and sampling.

In addition to Kelly and Mello, the piece will be performed by puppeteers Michael Parducci and Brian Snapp. Film and video are by Blaine Hicklin.

Performances are April 18 to 27 in the second-floor Club of La MaMa E.T.C., 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan. The production schedule is Fridays and Saturdays at 10:00 pm and Sundays at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $15; the box office number is (212) 475-7710. Online ticketing is available at

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.